Marilyn Lambert




Marilyn Lambert




Marilyn Lambert


Carol Klopfenstein

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nine Patch Fabrics


Winfield, Iowa


Judith Robinette


Note: Marilyn Lambert is not a member of the DAR. While this is a DAR quiltmaker documentation project, membership is not required for participation.

Carol Klopfenstein (CK): This is Carol Klopfenstein. It is March 23rd, 2009. It is 3:15 in the afternoon. I am conducting an interview with Marilyn Lambert in her farm home near Winfield, Iowa, for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are doing this though the American Heritage Committee of the Iowa State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Marilyn is a quilter. Marilyn, tell me about the quilt you chose to talk about today.

Marilyn Lambert (ML): The quilt that I have chosen is one I designed and made in 1984.

CK: Does your quilt have a name?

ML: Yes, it's called "Tut's Dream."

CK: Why did you choose this quilt for the interview?

ML: It is composed of an Egyptian design and one of my pet projects is Egyptian art.

CK: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

ML: It was fun to figure out all of the designs and to design and put it into an attractive bed covering. The colors are beautiful and they're a lot of fun to work with.

CK: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

ML: It was a very complicated quilt and they probably think I have a lot of patience.

CK: [laughs.] What are your plans for the quilt?

ML: While they're in my keeping, I hope to keep them safe for the next generation.

CK: Tell me more about the quilt. How did you decide on the colors for the quilt? Tell me more about it.

ML: Usually I take a fabric that has different colors in it that I like and then in the other parts of the quilt I'm able to use plain material in those colors, but they'll all blend together if they're all just one fabric.

CK: And where did you get the idea for the design in the quilt?

ML: I got it from a book ["Egyptian Wall Paintings from Tombs & Temples" by Christiane Desrocjes-Noblecourt, The New American Library of World Literature, 1964.] I have that's called wall or grave art. It's wall art like in the pyramids.

CK: How did you design or draw the design for the quilt?

ML: I used graph paper and my husband helped me figure out the yardage I'd need for the different colors, and this is very important to keep these work sheets, because people find these very interesting later on, in later life.

CK: Tell me more about the design on the quilt. You have the flowers on there. How did you plan all that?

ML: They were in the picture I was basing this on. I tried to reproduce the picture. I had to make it very large and I used this graph paper to make my flowers and to get them the right size, and there was water, and I got another color for the water, and the stems come up from out of the water.

CK: Tell me then, how you designed the border, the beautiful colors on the border.

ML: I had a book that had some furniture they had found in Tut's tomb and I took the designs from that and there was several mosaics that were checkerboards and I put quite a few checkerboards all around the edge of the quilt. And then there was one last row, they were kinda like parallelograms. They were the symbol of wheat, I think. And that's the way I ended it with the wheat design.

CK: And so you drew all of that on your graph paper?

ML: Yes.

CK: How long did it take you to make the quilt?

ML: Oh, I don't know, it's been so long ago.

CK: Maybe a year?

ML: I think it was over a year. Yes. And something interesting, my mother gave me $50.00 for my birthday and I used it to buy this material, of course, it cost more than that, but it was nice to have the beginning anyway.

CK: That's nice. Now it's hand quilted, is that right?

ML: Yes

CK: And, do you make labels for your quilt?

ML: Yes, I embroider my name right in the material, and I usually put it in a color that blends so it doesn't stick out. That is all supposed to be your name and the city and the state you live in and the date, because in years to come they may want to date this material and they have a better chance of finding where it was.

CK: Well that's good that you put that on your quilts. Tell me how your interest in quiltmaking, how you got interested. When did you start doing quilts?

ML: Well was it '86? That was the first one. '84.

CK: '84, I believe you mentioned you became interested in the bi-centennial year of 1976.

ML: Yes. Then I made a crazy quilt for my older daughter [Lorrie Lambert Etheredge.]. She got married in '77, and my younger daughter [Lise Rae Lambert Nelson.] got married in 81, and I made her a log cabin quilt when she got married.

CK: So those were your first quilts?

ML: Yes.

CK: Did you use a pattern or did you design those yourself?

ML: I didn't have a pattern for the crazy quilt, although I had a lovely little pamphlet that had many many embroidery stitches in it and that was really fun then the log cabin I made myself. I worked it out myself.

CK: So you used the graph paper again to design that?

ML: Yes.

CK: Who taught you to quilt?

ML: Nobody.

CK: You're self-taught?

ML: Yes. It's just a running stitch. It's not-- [laughs.]

CK: How many hours a week did you spend quilting?

ML: Well, sometimes you quilt as long as your fingers will last. [laughs.] It's painful to quilt. And you have to know when to stop and wait a day or two til you heal up a little. A friend of mine was kind of interested in it and I said, 'Well, you often prick your fingers and you bleed,' and she laughed and she said, 'I'm not doing anything that I'm going to bleed.' [laughs.]

CK: What is your first quilt memory? [three second pause.] Did your mother [Ruth Corinne Bennett Mathews.] have quilts at home?

ML: No, we didn't. My grandma Bennett [Susan Harper Bennett.], I remember her making a Flower Garden when I was young, and I have it in the closet here and it's a project to do. I'm gonna have to quilt that Flower Garden or it's just a rag.

CK: No one else will finish it then, if you don't finish it?

ML: No. [laughs.] My younger daughter [Lise Rae Lambert Nelson.] said she wouldn't.

CK: Tell me about, I believe you mentioned that you used to repair quilts. Tell me about repairing quilts.

ML: Oh, that was really fun and the part of it that was really great, these people were so appreciative, because once grandma dies things are more valuable to you. A lot of the quilts I find were given to the girls during the depression and they had no blankets and so they used the quilts and the quilts were in pretty bad shape, some of them. There was no saving a quilt back then.

CK: No, they had to use them for warmth. So, you started out by repairing precious quilts for people?

ML: Yes, they would be. I had one where a puppy had gotten ahold of it and made a hole straight through the quilt. That was easy, although sometimes you had to make a pattern, to fit the pattern that was torn. There was just places, it seemed like certain materials would wear out before the rest, especially in a crazy quilts. You'd get something with kinda silks, that same material would be gone in the other parts of the quilt, but I loved the crazy quilts because it was amazing to see the beautiful fabrics that they did have back then.

CK: Yes. They used to have a lot of beautiful beautiful fabrics. How did quiltmaking impact your family?

ML: It impacted my husband [Marvin Lambert.]. [laughs.] It impacted him today, when you came to see me. [laughs.] Because he's the one that helps, we keep them up in a closet in the bedroom. The safest way to store a quilt is you fold it and roll it and put it in a pillowcase, but never, never put it in plastic because plastic has an acid in it. I've got one that has the effects of that in it and it's just little tiny points and they look like a grease spot, so don't ever put them in a garbage bag.

CK: Oh, that's good to know. Well, I think you said your husband also helped you with your figuring out your yardage, so he helped you that way also.

ML: There's a lot of math in quilts. If you get off pattern, you have to have an exact pattern, and if you're tracing around a pattern it will wear down and so you really have to replace it. You get off a sixteenth of an inch and you're really in trouble. Because it multiplies many many times if you keep using it.

CK: It sounds like you have done an excellent job with your designing. Tell me have you had an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking.

ML: No, I can't think of anything. We've shown them many places and there have been many group meetings and they'll ask me to bring my quilts and they're an awful lot of trouble, they're very heavy and we were getting to the place where we just couldn't handle it. But everybody in Henry County has seen them.

CK: You have a lot of beautiful quilts. What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

ML: I like color and I love fabrics. We're going to clean out the house one of these days and there's an awful lot of fabric in here. I talked to a woman one day and she said I sure hope my husband dies before I do because I don't want him to know how much material I have in this house. [laughs.] My husband has a pretty good idea [laughs.] how much material there is.

CK: When you see something pretty and you'd like to go ahead and purchase it I'm sure.

ML: Yes. What is it they say? They say if you see something you really like, you should buy four yards, because then you can really use it in a quilt. There's an awful lot of beautiful, clever material. I've got some with farm animals in it and corn and in this district there'll be little barns and farming scenes. The material is just charming.

CK: Is there any aspect of quilting do you not enjoy? I guess you've already mentioned your fingers get sore. [laughs.] Is there any other part of it you do not enjoy?

ML: No, I can't think of anything unless when things start to go wrong it's bad. I've got a mistake in the closet now that I need to straighten out and I've put it off and put it off with that crazy quilt. The top of it's all done, so I'm really going to have to finish it.

CK: It's going to take some figuring out.

ML: Yes.

CK: What quilt groups do you belong to?

ML: None.

CK: I expect you enjoy just working on your quilts and designing them yourself. Have advances in technology influenced your work? Have you used any of the new technology?

ML: No, I like to sew on the sewing machine, but I don't want to sit there all day. I don't want to work at the sewing machine.

CK: Do you use a template?

ML: Yes.

CK: Do you sew your pieces together with the sewing machine? Or do you sew them together by hand?

ML: By hand.

CK: Oh, you sew them together by hand.

ML: Yes. I line them up with a pin.

CK: I believe you mentioned you never want to use a pencil.

ML: No, I use soap a lot. I used that when I sewed for the girls. You know, your soap will get down to a real sliver and that edge is really wonderful to mark darts or to mark things with and it just brushes off.

CK: That's good to know. What are your favorite techniques or your materials that you use, your cottons or your blends? What are your favorites?

ML: I like cotton, but blends fit the pocketbook better.

CK: Some of them are beautiful.

CK: Have you used several kinds of fabrics, and if you have, were some harder textures to work with?

ML: Some of them are very tightly woven and that's really hard to get a needle through. You're supposed to use a needle to quilt that's called an 8 between (they call it) and it's stubby and it's strong and it can stand a lot of pressure. If you use a different needle it will break. Quilting is really hard work. I had a friend and she had a lot of trouble with her lungs because she quilted a lot. You sit hunched over, whether it's a rack or a hoop, and it's not a very good posture, to stand for very long.

CK: Describe the place you make your quilts, or actually worked on your quilts and where you keep your equipment.

ML: It's all over the house. The hoops are there in the closet. I have several sizes. They're wooden, they have a wooden frame.

CK: And did you use your dining room table to work on?

ML: Oh, yes, [clears throat.] when I baste. You know a quilt is a sandwich and you have to tack all that down so it's all lined up. So I do it on the dining room table.

CK: And then you use a hoop to quilt.

ML: Yes. You really have to be careful when you do the hoop. You turn it all around on its back and you look at the underside and it has to be gotten smooth, too, just like the top and not too tight and not too close. You should not quilt too close to the edge of the hoop or you can get a crease. The hoop is tricky. It's easier for me to handle.

CK: You didn't use a quilting frame then?

ML: No, we don't have room for it.

CK: Tell me how you balanced your time.

ML: Oh, I'm a stay at home mom. I taught piano lessons for years and then I quilted. I had a lot of extra time.

CK: So you always found time to quilt.

ML: Yes.

CK: I guess you mentioned how you went about designing your quilt with the graph paper, is there anything else you want to say about your own designing of the quilts? It seems like you were a real artist in the way you designed and come up with your own design.

ML: You find out in a hurry what works and what doesn't. I don't know. It just seems like, whether I belonged to an organization or not, it still is a sort of a sisterhood. It's very rewarding to work with your hands. Now, I'm a musician and I've always played the piano and I've always enjoyed using my hands for my entertainment. If I ever lose that, I'll be in bad trouble. [laughs.]

CK: How many quilts have you made?

ML: The ones I've designed are about twelve.

CK: That's quite a few. I'm sure that took a lot of time. Have you ever won an award?

ML: No. You know, it's awfully hard on a quilt to put it up for an award. You don't know what they're going to do with it when they get it and sometimes it looks pretty bad when you get it back.

CK: Yes. That's true. After you've spent a lot of time quilting it.

ML: Like I said, it's like a child. After you've spent so much time on it, you want to protect it. [laughs.]

CK: Yes, that's right. What do you think makes a great quilt?

ML: It must be attractive to the eye. It should say something to you. Some of them have a message and some of them don't.

CK: Some of them have memories. And I believe you said people used to quilt out of grief.

ML: Yes.

CK: Many years ago.

ML: They were talking about baby quilts, and they said there aren't many baby quilts. The woman, she had a baby a year and lots of times the baby didn't live, so they didn't put much work into getting ready for that baby. But, I don't know. People died young. Also, I read some place where whenever a woman was going to have a baby she made herself a special quilt and when people came to visit her, she had a new quilt on her bed. [laughs.]

CK: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

ML: I don't know.

CK: Well, I guess you mentioned maybe the color and the design?

ML: Yes. We like bright colors and who thought but what sometimes a quilt might shout. [laughs.] Sometimes they whisper. It feeds our soul for beauty, I think.

CK: Yes, I think

ML: So many things in this world aren't beautiful.

CK: Quilts are beautiful. What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

ML: There are quilt patterns that are very famous. It's what we're known for. But there's always something new coming up. They call it fiber art, now. You see quilts made out of paper and maybe they made the paper themselves. This is art. It's not usable art, but I kind of like the expression of fabric art.

CK: Something original. What makes a great quiltmaker?

ML: You have to have imagination. Have to love beauty, I think, because, that's what I think of as of the quilt is beauty. Aesthetically, as I say, it feeds your desire for beautiful things. It's really called a feast to the eyes.

CK: That's a good description for it. Whose works are you drawn to? I guess we've mentioned your Egyptian art. Is that

ML: Egyptian art is very static; it never changes. I like French art, and I like watercolors. I'm just fortunate to see a display of [Vincent.] Van Gogh art several years ago and I like several artists. I don't like modern art especially. I don't understand it.

CK: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting?

ML: It's not a hands on thing. The love of quilting is your hands. I've talked to people who say my husband's hands are always moving, and my hands are always moving. I just love to feel the fabric and as they say, get in with both feet. Stir it up. It's almost like cooking. You do something with your hands and you appreciate it.

CK: Your hand quilts are beautiful. Why has quiltmaking been important to your life?

ML: I've had several lives. I was a musician for years. I was a singer. I played the organ at church. This just seemed to be another outlet for some kind of art.

CK: Well you certainly could use your imagination. You always liked to study the ancient people, I think you mentioned. You have made at least two Egyptian pieces, art, quilts. In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or the region? Or do you think they reflect your community?

ML: I think they do in that I have one quilt that has some really cute material, it's not expensive material. It's not very good quality. It's rural design and farm design. Then there is a quilting center. And people who live. There are Mennonites that live down there that make quilts and are farmers, and it's like you're glorifying your home.

CK: Yes. That's good. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

ML: That reminds me of something I read in a book. It said, men might not think too much of it but this woman was a, she worked in a library, and they were having a quilt show, and this young man came in with this package that was all folded up and he said, 'My mother made this.' And you know, he was really being very careful with it and everything, and he said how much he appreciated it after she was gone. [laughs.]

CK: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

ML: Women are probably making quilts of their life's experience. I never seen too many of that, but I don't think the women today--that's the reason we've gone to the sewing machine. They have a craving for this, but they don't have time for it. It is an outlet. I'm not saying it's bad, but that's not what the original philosophy was. It was a need. It used to be you had a quilt or you were cold, and now it's luxury.

CK: How do you think quilts can be used?

ML: I like to think of them as wall hangings. Then we don't get, they're not, I've put loops on them and put them on curtain rods, hung from the ceiling. I like to see crazy quilts like that. You don't want any pressure on them. They don't want them to be so heavy that they pull themselves out of shape. But I do like, I keep thinking these quilts that I have finished that belonged to grandma and were just a rag wadded up when we found them, that some of the grandchildren will put them in a family room and hang them on the wall.

CK: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

ML: Do you really want to know? You keep them like where I have mine, which can be set on fire at any time or flooded, but don't let your family get a hold of them. [laughs.]

CK: Yes, you want to know your grandchildren are old enough to appreciate them. Right. That's good.

ML: I can just hear mine would say, 'What?'

CK: What has happened to the quilts that you have made or for those of friends and family? I believe you mentioned you gave your exchange student a quilt.

ML: Yes, when she was here. And we had it all folded up so carefully so she could take it on the plane and she called me on the telephone from New York and she had stopped there to see somebody and she said, 'Well, I'm sitting here with the quilt wrapped around me.' And I said to Marvin, 'What? She's using that quilt? Someone's going to have to wrap that quilt all up again to take on the airplane.' [laughs.] Anyway, it's just like a child. Once it's out of your hands, it's gone. It's gone.

CK: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

ML: It's probably the price. I don't know. I haven't priced any material for a while. A lot of fabric shops are going out of business. That's another thing, if you working like I do and where I kind of worked on layers. First I get the middle, then I get the edges and I maybe wouldn't have the material then. But there was always money to add on another row and you didn't have to buy a lot at once. There is a lot of expense to it. I don't know what's going to happen. I don't think it's going to be completely gone. As I say, it may be this paper business. They're making paper and then they're making paper art.

CK: Well, we hope there will always be some quiltmaking because they are beautiful. Is there anything else that you would like to add to our interview? I believe you were going to mention about your working on a quilt and then you got your eye problem.

ML: Yes, I went blind when I was twenty four and I had to stop driving, had stop playing the piano, had to stop crocheting and I like to do all that. It took me about two years to get straightened out again. I just was wild to do something. So I crocheted quite a bit, but my whole family had this problem. I've had really wonderful eye sight ever since, so I've been very lucky.

CK: Well, it's wonderful because you have made many beautiful quilts, so much of them just your design. So that makes your quilts very special. Is there anything else you'd like to add or mention about the other Egyptian quilt?

I have three but one is not finished yet. It's in the closet, and it's kind of strange. I got the inside of it wrong, I got the batting wrong, and so then it was hard to quilt, so I've got to go in and cut all of that back. I made this one that was called the Temple of Isis and it was a lot like the King Tut one. It has water in the front of it and the flowers were sticking up out of the water and then there was the reflection that was quite lovely of the flowers. Then all around the edge was an Egyptian design which is usually an oblong and two or three little oblongs and then in the corners was a palm, was a palm tree, which is one of the columns in the temple, had an artificial palm sticking out of it. That one is turquoise, and old rose and green.

CK: And you did the design, you drew the design?

ML: Yes. I started in the middle. [laughs.] This is kind of dangerous starting in the middle. You say, 'Well I need some more.' So, you put another and then that multiplies and before you know it you have a queen-size [laughs.] on your hands, or maybe worse, or king-size. I like for everything to be balanced. And this one, I really thought was well balanced.

CK: And you quilted the water?

ML: Oh, yes. [laughs.] I got in an awful mess there. I decided the Egyptian design for water was zigzag, and I was zigzagging all through this water and it was too small, too close together. It was quite a job, but I got it done. I like to try new techniques, when I'm doing these things.

CK: Did you see that picture in a magazine or a book?

ML: I have a book.

CK: That gave you that idea?

ML: Yes. I have a book of ornamentation and it's got different sections, it has Arabic ornamentations, and Victorian, and it has Egyptian. It's a real interesting book and you can get a lot of designs out of it.

CK: Well, you're very talented to be able to design your own quilts. I would like to thank you for taking your time today to share so much with me. It's been very interesting to do the interview with you and I'm going to conclude my interview with Marilyn Lambert and it is now 3:55 p.m.


“Marilyn Lambert,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,